New building codes considered

By Jack King

The city of Clovis has been asked to take a position in a statewide debate over building codes.
The issue will also require an important decision by the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson by year’s end.
Randy Crowder, past president of the Building Contractors Association of Curry County, on Thursday urged Clovis’ city commission to adopt the “International” building codes developed by the International Code Council as soon as legally possible.
Crowder said Friday his request is part of a campaign against a rival set of building codes, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code, and its “C3” family of codes.
He said he has been asked to speak by other cities statewide.
City commissioners also heard from Lisa Martinez, director of the Construction Industries Division of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, and representatives from the groups that created the NFPA 5000 codes.
Martinez asked that commissioners not do anything until her division completes a review of both codes by mid-December. A political entity that adopts a code that is less stringent than codes adopted by the state violates state law, she said. She refrained from saying the International codes actually are less stringent than current codes.
Building codes are the guidelines anyone building a structure is required to follow and that building inspectors using when inspecting.
“They provide a standard without which the building process would be hit-or-miss and without which greed or ignorance sometimes would get in the way of safety,” said city building inspector Tom Heap.
The state of New Mexico uses a modified version of the uniform building codes, created previously by all of the organizations involved in the debate. The codes are normally revised every three years and states adopt newer versions on a regular basis, according to Ken Fields of the National Fire Protection Agency.
But in the late 1990s the NFPA, the Western Fire Chiefs Association and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials split from the International Code Council and decided to create their own set of codes. Both the NFPA and its partners and the ICC are non-profit groups that derive income from the sale of code books, Fields said.
Proponents of the International codes say they are simple to follow, scientifically based and cut down on the bureacracy builders have to deal with during a project. Also, the “I” codes are primarily developed by building officials and code enforcement officers, who have the interests of local governments and citizens at heart, they say.
Crowder said the expense of building is much less under the international codes. Heap, who is certified in both the Uniform Building Code and the International Building Code, called the international codes “fabulous.”
“The ‘I’ codes are an advance from the Uniform codes. They take a balanced, affordable approach, accepting what shouldn’t be done by government and emphasizing what can best be done by government,” he said.
Proponents of the NFPA 5000 codes tout their consensus-based development process, which, they say, let a wide variety of interested parties participate in their development.
Fields said the NFPA 5000 codes provide a higher level of building safety.
NFPA 5000, for example, requires automatic sprinkler systems in all new healthcare facilities. The “I” codes do not. In high-rise buildings, NFPA 5000 does not allow the inclusion of sprinkler systems to permit a narrower width of stairways, as do the “I” codes, he said.
Crowder charged the NFPA’s “more open” process allowed it to be dominated by unions and business groups that will profit from its guidelines. Fields denied this, saying the process was overseen by the American National Standards Institute, which would not have accredited the codes if it had observed that the process was swayed.
Thomas Montano, chairman of the Construction Industries Commission, also is business manager of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, local 412, in Albuquerque.
He said Friday that, under the NFPA’s consensus-based process, his union had a say in the NFPA 5000’s development, as did other members of the industry. He denied the union has a special interest in the codes.
But, on June 12 he sent Attorney General Patricia Madrid a letter noting that Alamogordo had adopted the International codes and that other cities were considering them. He urged her “to investigate and take appropriate action to enforce the law and put a stop to any further action by Alamogordo or any municipality considering the same.”
“It’s evident which way the state is going,” Crowder said. “If the city of Clovis, along with Alamogordo, Las Cruces, Hobbs and Farmington adopt (the international codes), it creates tremendous pressure on the state to follow the lead of the people they’re trying to govern,” he said.
City Manager Raymond Mondragon said the state Municipal League has issued a resolution urging its members to adopt the international codes, but he said he’s urging the city commission to take a “prudent, cautious” approach to adopting the codes.
“We could do this in a step-by-step fashion, adopt the International Building Code and wait on the plumbing code. Another avenue is to form a task force with builders and city inspectors to develop a city code acceptable to the state,” he said.